By Nikhat Sattar
December 5th, 2014
THE Creator has very clearly identified the duties of believers towards their parents.
For example, in the Holy Quran it is stated: “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him; and that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them, but address them in terms of honour” (17:23).
Similar injunctions are given elsewhere in the Quran.
We should realise that parents and the elderly are God’s blessings.
According to unofficial reports in the press, the number of homes for the old and infirm in Karachi was three in 2006. It has quadrupled since then, the demand outstripping availability. The numbers keep on rising, the residents being mostly those who have been left there by their sons, or other close relatives.
Economic pressures, increasing health costs of the elderly, breakup of the joint family system, changing lifestyles, the inability or unwillingness of the older generation to ‘step in line’ with the attitudes of the young, and the unavailability of attention that they require are some of the reasons cited by those who leave parents to the care of strangers.
In households where both the wife and husband work, who can care for the parents, they ask.
The onset of senility and severe problems accompanying illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s often leave the offspring (particularly the males) in a quandary. Eager to get on with their lives, they find it an easy recourse to send their ailing parents away, sometimes paying an amount to a charitable institution for their upkeep.
The rest of the family — and society at large — is increasingly sympathetic to the concept.
After all, daughters cannot help as their husbands will not keep their parents in many cases, and the sons really have their own lives to live. In any case, the parents will find the company of other elderly people more soothing.
The reality might be very different. Many of those who are left in these homes are brought there under some pretext or the other, and not informed of their destination. It is only when the gates are shut on them that they realise what has happened. They are here to wait for death. They try to contact their children, who often do not answer their calls.
Most parents in our society have not developed interests other than earning a livelihood and taking care of children. They do not read, do gardening, play indoor or outdoor games, or busy themselves in any DIY activity, as do their Western counterparts. So they spend the time they have left in reminiscing and prayers, wondering how their young could leave them thus.
In many cases, the parents and elders who have been left at such institutions would have already handed over their properties to their children.
As soon as this is done, many adult children no longer see the need to look after their aging parents. At first they are relegated to a small room, and later taken to a care home.
Care institutions, whether managed by the state or the private sector, are indeed essential as life spans increase, and old people, especially those who are poor and destitute, are left without relatives who can look after them.
Just as we need such places for the young who are orphaned, we also need them for those who are no longer able to fend for themselves.
However, when children who clearly possess the wherewithal to support their older relations abandon them, it is a collective dilemma for all of us. Children can never reciprocate the love that a parent has for a child, but can they lose compassion for the mother who stayed up at nights when one was ill and dried one’s tears when one was beset with unknown fears? And the father who worked hard to educate them? According to a Hadith, a mother has greater claims than a father (Bukhari, Muslim).
Does one not look at one’s own children and think, “I could be on the receiving end some day?” Is one not reminded of God putting the care of parents second only to the belief in His Oneness?
There are social, moral and religious issues here that need consideration before this tendency proliferates further. If we would only recognise the truth when we see it, we would realise that parents and the elderly are God’s blessings. Unfortunate are those who turn away such blessings from their hearths.
It would be useful to remember that as we close the gates of our love and care on our parents in their twilight years, we may well be asking God to close the gates of heaven on us.
Nikhat Sattar is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.